السلام عليكم – The challenges of localizing addresses in Arabic. Your help is appreciated!

I need help. Do you speak and read Arabic and do you develop for Arabic applications or solutions that are using addresses? Then maybe I can ask for a few minutes of your time and for your local expertise.

Before I go into the details of the challenge we have, here is a bit of background.

The product I work on is the HERE Geocoder. Geocoder helps find addresses so you can show them on a map, calculate a route to it, show imagery around it, find places near it, use it in logistics solutions, geo-marketing, business intelligence and much more. It is a web service with a RESTful API.

We recently did improvements for Saudi Arabia, where an addressing system with a 13 digit long code is in place. It helps locate addresses in the rural areas where streets are often unnamed. For example “7538-65525-3802″ is house number 7538 in the town Al Bahah. (This is a randomly picked address.)

As part of the improvement we want to get the labels and address lines right in Arabic. And this is where I need help.

While Geocoder outputs the individual address parts separately, it also offers a localized output of addresses for over 90 countries. For some countries the house number goes before, in other it goes behind the street name. Some need the zip code after the city name, some before it. And for example in Arabic the address needs to flow from right to left. The localization is applied to two output fields.

1) Label: an assembled address value built out of the parsed address components. It can be used to display the address formatted on a screen.

Here is the expected output of the label.
It’s the first bold line on the right. Below you can see the individual address components:

arabic_label

2) Address lines: Formatted address lines built out of the parsed address components. The first line consists of street name, including prefix, directionals and street type, and house number. The second line consists of the city name and postal code, plus in some countries the state name or abbreviation. They can be used to put the address onto an envelop or package and send something to the location.

And here is the expected address lines formatting as per the Saudi Post:

addressline-formatting_saudi-arabia

Now obviously Arabic is read from right to left and this is where is becomes challenging. Especially around the formatting of the postal code and add-on code. The 5+4 number next to the city name.

We have Arabic speaking colleagues on the team, but our computers and systems are English and being based in Germany doesn’t help either. Because when we look at the label and address lines on our Western, Latin script based systems, then things start flowing from right to left depending on the client we use to look at the JSON or XML output.

This is where I need help from anyone how has experience with developing for Arabic output. And running an Arabic system. Because different browser, text editors, and tools render the XML and JSON differently. Your help with looking at this and helping us understand whether we are getting it right is greatly appreciated!

As said above Geocoder returns either JSON or XML as the response format. Here are two files with a random example address and our current state of development:
[Response sample files are not longer available as development is successfully completed. Please see example request in the comments below.]

XML response

JSON response

If you believe you are an expert and have worked with JSON and/or XML data in Arabic, then please let me know whether the formatted output in the label and address lines attributes are correct. Can you work with this as is? Any pointers on the relevance of getting this right – i.e. correct from right to left – is welcome too.

Simply reply in the comments section below.

شكرا جزيلا

#neuland is where you are

This month I was given the opportunity to speak at Webmontag Frankfurt.
Webmontag is a monthly event that brings together a group of about 200 people interested in web and technology related topics. The guest have various backgrounds. They are developers, founders, entrepreneurs, venture capitalist, researchers, web pioneers, bloggers, podcasters, designers, and others.

My talk was about how location is embedded into everyday activities of a smart phone user and what that all means in the light of the recent NSA and Prism related news. I was given the last 15 minutes of an already packed and very interesting agenda, so I decided to keep things a little lighter and entertaining.

Here are the slides, with an English transcript. The original talk was in German and you can watch the video at the very end of this post or follow the link now over to Vimeo.

#neuland is where you are.

[Neuland, German for “virgin territory,” is a term used by the German Chancellor Angela Merkel to describe the current state of the Internet during a joint press conference with President Barack Obama in Berlin on June 19th, 2013. During the address, Chancellor Merkel was asked to comment on the U.S. National Security Agency’s PRISM surveillance scandal. Chancellor Merkel’s remark was instantly met by derisive comments on Twitter, with many German Internet users ridiculing her use of the term “neuland” as being out of touch with the progress that has been made in the field. Source: http://knowyourmeme.com/memes/events/neuland%5D

Hello, my name is Philip Hubertus …

Continue reading

SoLoMo applied – a student homework excercise

SoLoMo is the latest industry buzz word these days. But what really is this and how can it be applied? SoLoMo stands for Social Local Mobile. It is blending social media, location-aware technology for marketing, and mobile device usage which offers opportunities to retailers, marketers and consumers.And that sounds rather abstract, doesn’t it? So I thought maybe this comes to life when choosing an everyday scenario and building SoLoMo use case along that. And that is what I did with the help of students.

I recently had the chance to do a guest lecture at Wiesbaden Business School. Thanks to Peter Krause who invited me to his course “Consumer Markets and Buyer Behavior” of the Master of International Business Administration class of 2013. I felt honored.
And so I went and spoke about two things.

  1. The mega trends that lead to Location technology becoming a key ingredient in marketing and business processes.
  2. The very basics of Location Based Services. How we here at Nokia (where I work) build digital maps, how positioning, geocoding, mapping, routing, traffic work and how all this is linked to each other.

However the interesting part came at the end of 90 minutes. It was the homework I asked the students to complete. Here it is.

Imagine the relationship and touch points between a technophile housekeeping consumer and a drugstore retail chain.
Think about how the retailer can create a consumer experience that leverages location aware smart phones and in-store technology to increase consumer spend, loyalty, and satisfaction.
Don’t limit yourself by what is currently technologically possible!

Think about the whole consumer experience from both, the consumer and retailer point of view. What does each want to achieve?
Think along the time span from consuming drugstore items at home, planning for the next store visit, the store visit itself, and the time after the store visit.

I showed the below picture to illustrate how consumers and retailers are separated by time and space in their own thinking and doing, that they come together at the store (where the love has to happen!), only to then separate again into their own thinking and doing.Where the magic happens

Write up user stories in the following format:

As a <type of user>,
I want <some goal>
so that <some reason>.

For example:
As a consumer, I want to be notified of special offers as I enter the store so that I can save money.

I had use case templates printed out for the students as I wanted to hang up all use cases on the board along the two paths I have illustrated above. So I handed those out at the end. I said good-bye, packed up and here is what we did the week after.

One week later the students had done their homework. I chalked up the two intersecting lines and asked the students to walk up and pin their use cases to the board. Pre-purchase use cases went up left, at the store use cases in the middle and post-purchase ones on the right. Consumer use cases went to the top, retailer/enterprise uses cases to the bottom of the board.

use-case-templatesWBS-IBA_use-cases-board

WBS-IBA_use-cases-pointsWe went through all the use case and briefly discussed how each ties in Location, where the benefit and the value for consumers and retailer is. The students also came up with two use cases from a products company point of view.
After the discussion I asked each student to assign three points to the use cases they liked best, see the highest potential, or easiest to implement.
And they did. What was the outcome?

Here are the use cases. Unfiltered, all of them. Grouped by point of view. Sorted by points awarded by the students {point in brackets}.

Consumer

  • As a consumer, I want to get electronic (phone) ticket [receipt] of purchase with some cumulative points so that I have some discount for next purchase and save environment (by using less paper). {2}
  • As a consumer, I want to be guided through the store so that I’m shopping all the products in my shopping list quickly. {0}
  • As a consumer, I want to know where in the store I can find new things that mirror my shopping behavior so that I can find new interesting things that fit to my interests. {0}
  • As a consumer I want to be directed to my desired products in the shop so that I don’t waste time looking for the right aisle, spot, etc. {0}
  • As a consumer, I want to be frequently updated on new offers so that I can save money. {0}
  • As a consumer, I want to know price and availability of my product in advance so that I can compare with other offers. {0}
  • As a customer, I want to know which skin care products fit best to my skin so that I don’t have problems with my skin any longer (test on website of drugstore). {0}
  • As a mother [consumer], I want to get information about the availability of a list of baby products so that I can plan my shopping route before leaving home. {0}


Retailer

  • As a retailer I want to send special offers to customers when they check-in somewhere else so that I can give them context-based offers from my product range. {7}
  • As a retailer, I want to know how much do I need to refill with a code so that we save time doing that. {6}
  • As a retailer, I want to keep in touch with my customers so that I can tell him when there is a special offer for his favorite product. {2}
  • As a retailer, I want to know how much people stand in front of my store and how much went inside so that I can improve my advertisement in front of the store. {0}
  • As a retailer, I want to make to customer conscious [aware] where to find new products so that he will have a unique shopping experience in my shop. {0}
  • As a retailer, I want to use  consumer shopping lists to stock up in time or convert them to get items shipped (if they are not in store) so that revenues, profit, and consumer satisfaction are maximized. {0}
  • As a retailer, I want to know when a certain customer buys something (and how much) so that I am not running out of stock. {0}


Products Company

  • As a producer [products company] e.g. for shampoo, I want that my new products are located in the drugstore map (with their position and a special sign) so that customers pay immediate attention to the new products and buy it. {4}
  • As a producer, I want location store interactions with “free consumer offers” so that my consumers are satisfied. {3}

There are a lot of uses cases that don’t tie in location at all. You could use that to proof either one or all of the following points.

  1. Location technology is still new and has not yet become a major element of what is taught to students. (Although I tried to change that with my lecture!)
  2. It takes more than a single guest lecture to get students (or anyone really) to grasp Location and inspired them to think creatively how to embed it into marketing and business processes.
  3. Location isn’t really that important in something as mundane as buying drugstore items.

What do you think?

Feel free to add your feedback, thinking, and use cases in the comments.

P.S. Meanwhile Rossmann, a German drugstore retail chain has kicked-off a “check-in for charity” campaign. Read more about it on the Foursquare Blog.

Good questions on geocoding, navigation, and the future of location. Here is my view point.

I was recently asked a few very good questions. I enjoyed thinking about them further and so I wrote up some answers. I take this an opportunity to revive this blog. Let me know your thoughts on the questions and my answers. I’m happy to exchange view points.

Full disclosure. I work for Nokia Location & Commerce, but these are my personal views and thoughts which do not necessarily reflect Nokia’s views.

Here we go:

What do you do in your job as a Product Manager for Geocoding?

My role as a Product Manager is about communicating and providing context. I’m helping to define our product vision and mission, focus areas, and again context to make sure that as a team we work towards a common goal. And of course that includes grasping and then translating user and business needs into product stories so our team can build and improve the product against these. But it goes the other way around too when I’m explaining the value and benefits of technical product features to the user and business audience. I also look at the business side of the product. What are the revenues we help to create with our product? What is the usage and value of features? What do my colleagues in Sales need to sign up customers? What do we need to do to increase the bottom line?

What is geocoding, and why it is so important for navigation devices?

Very basically geocoding is the translation between how people describe an address and how spatial systems – like a navigation device – stores and works with an address location.
Let me give an example. My office address is “Am Kronberger Hang 8 in Schwalbach, Germany” which spatial is at “latitude: 50.1618996; longitude: 8.5334997”.

Let’s go a bit deeper now. There are two ways of geocoding.

First, geocoding allows users to find an address.
It is the equivalent of searching for a road name in the street index that is printed on the back of a paper map, then remembering the quadrant’s code, turning the map and pointing your finger at it. Compared to a paper map, a geocoding software has a much larger, if not gigantic global index, is much faster, more precise, and often supports multiple languages. Plus, there is a lot of additional information and data a good geocoding software provides. This is especially of value to enterprise users who are using geocoding to make smarter decisions and optimize their processes.

Then, geocoding also works the other way around, which is called reverse geocoding.  This is used to answer the popular questions “Where am I?”, “What’s here?”, or even “Dude, where is my car?”. Here, a user resolves the latitude and longitude from a GPS/location sensor into an address.

Why is all this important for navigation devices? Because they operate on spatial data but people don’t. People are used to textual addresses not a location’s spatial latitude and longitude. So that translation is needed. And a piece of geocoding software is the first thing that kicks in on a navigation device when looking for directions.

Geocoding not only happens on navigation devices. We’re running our Geocoder software as a service in multiple data centers around the globe. The Geocoder service has global, fresh coverage based on our continuously updated automotive-grade map data. It is an essential building block of our Where Platform. Geocoder works seamlessly with the other Nokia location services like Places, Maps, Positioning, Directions, and Traffic. The Geocoder API is robust and offers high availability, performance and scalability and it’s in use by 300+ customers including Bing and Yahoo!.

And apart from the consumers being able to find addresses or locate themselves around the globe on the web and in apps, I’m really excited about the value of the smart things businesses can do with geocoded information; like analyzing the size of markets, geo-marketing, tracking and optimizing the efficiency of vehicles, workforce, or other assets.

You must use navigation and location a lot in your daily life given what you do.  Which devices and applications do you tend to use most, which are your favorites and why?

I’m sure it’s not a surprise I use and love my Nokia Lumia 800. I use the Nokia Drive app for my daily commute to avoid traffic. It has this great new commute feature that watches the traffic situation for me and helps me pick the right time and route to go. Being a “spirited driver” I often run the Trapster app in the background for driving safety. I’m using Foursquare daily to “share my Where” and facilitate serendipity. And I’m tracking my running with the Nike+ Running app. Another favorite of mine is the Navigon app, specifically when used on the large screen of an iPad. I can also recommend Navigon’s PNDs. I bought one for my mum recently.

One of the hottest topics around the future of mobile mapping services is indoor location positioning and indoor positioning systems.  Once this new technology becomes widely adopted what do you think will be the main usage applications for it?

The first thing that comes to everyone’s mind is of course displaying indoor maps and enabling navigation. So let’s say you’re in unfamiliar territory visiting friends at their new house. You don’t want to come with empty hands so you’re looking to buy some fresh flowers nearby them. You search and there is a florist in a gigantic mall not far away. What you want is to be guided to a parking row near the best entrance of the mall and then as you walk in, to be seamlessly guided inside the building to the store. Now you can slightly tweak that scenario at will, e.g. with a gate at the airport, booth at the show, rest room at the stadium, the Van Gogh at the museum, or the power tools section inside the home improvement store. It’ll still be a “portable and connected device – last mile indoor guidance” use case.

And then I see other great ways to use indoor location positioning.
For example in mobile payment solutions where location can be used for customer loyalty programs and better fraud protection mechanisms. Upon entering a store you can get relevant offers and when you’re ready to pay, that transaction’s location is checked against your actual location. This is a big, valuable, and exciting market. You want to see what Square and LevelUp are doing already.
With the global trend towards huge urban metropolises here is a use case for that: Public transportation, especially when this is underground. Again, think mobile payment based on where you enter and exit a station, so no paper tickets or swipe cards, and no more turnstiles. Plus up to date departure times, always the best connection, and never be lost in those long corridors. Doesn’t that sound good?
On the fun side I see virtual games in actual locations. Museums, parks, and resorts can create whole new engaging experiences.

The market is ever-changing, and there are plenty of challenges facing the traditional in-car navigation brands especially with high adoption rates for smart navigation. Do you think navigation devices have a future or will they soon be replaced by navigation apps on mobile phones?

I’m pretty sure there will always be demand for navigation devices, in-dash navigation and smartphone navigation apps. Each of these has their own advantages and limitations and ultimately it’s up to the consumers to decide what they prefer. Nokia offers data products and location platform service for each of these.

Yes, the trend towards using navigation on smartphones is growing, especially as navigation is already included on many smartphones today. And then there is a wide choice of apps to download. But I also see some interesting benefits that are not fully leveraged yet, e.g. as smartphones already come with a data connection this allows users to get fresher and more detailed data. I’m not talking map data here. Nokia was one of the first to store map data offline on the phones, so that you can navigate even if the connection drops and save on data usage fees. I’m talking about dynamic data e.g. traffic, gas prices, parking availability, detailed places information like reviews and pictures, and relevant local offers. Also for some people one device is already more than enough. So they don’t want to carry a separate navigation device and learn how to use it if they can get navigation on their smart phone with a user interface they already know. But again, consumers will decide and as devices and cars become more connected; some of today’s advantages of navigation on smart phones will not be unique tomorrow.

The key for the traditional navigation device brands is to acknowledge this and think about what markets and needs they can focus on to outperform smartphones and in-dash navigation. This may also include thinking about new markets. Look at Garmin. They are big in the great outdoors market too and historically they’ve come from marine and aviation. Navigation and location isn’t only about driving cars.

What are your own predictions for Location over the next couple of years?

Location will become ubiquitously ingrained into a lot of what we do as consumers and businesses. The adoption of GPS and location sensors in devices will grow further, not only phones but also things like cameras, watches, or luggage. Apps and services using location will transform quite a few industries. Personally I see mobile payments as the one that is going to be the most exciting with lots of opportunity. Health care and well-being is another area that has a lot of potential for connected location sensors and using that data. And it’s a growing industry. And there are great possibilities in inventory and supply chain monitoring and management.

The following three mega-trends will push innovation around using location: 1. The Internet of Things; 2. Mega Cities; and 3. Multi-modal Mobility.
These three trends can nicely tango. Let look at a few examples. Location sensors and connections to the Internet will be embedded in a lot more things. These things can then share data which can be used to optimize processes automatically or influence decisions. Of course this will be in cars but also motorbikes, bicycles, buses, trains, trucks, and anything else that moves people or goods. There it will not only help people find the best route, but also manage and avoid traffic, and support them make smarter decisions around which mode of transportation to use at any given time. This will have great benefits especially in and round Mega Cities with good public transport networks. And it will enable new usage-based vehicle insurance models, reduce emissions, and help improve safety.

Free Navigation

The past months were exciting times for the LBS and map industry. The announcements of free navigation by Google and Nokia sparked many discussions.
I work for NAVTEQ and certainly have my own, positively excited view on this.
If you struggle with the concept of “free”, I strongly recommend to read Chris Anderson’s book “Free: The Future of a Radical Price” or at least read these two articles in Wired about the topic.

But the main reason for this blog post is that I want to share another interesting article I came across.
Kevin Dennehy of GPS World interviewed Mike Dobson who hit some very interesting things that help get a better understanding of the powers at play.

For those of you who don’t have the time to read the full article, here are what I think are the three most interesting sections:

[...] the week following the announcement, there were more than 1 million downloads of the app and data. [...]
[...] the top five countries downloading the new, free version of OVI maps were China, Italy (with the highest number of smart phone users in Europe), UK, Germany and Spain. The number of users of Google’s navigation applications in these same five countries is zero, [...].

Gartner’s recent analysis of the phone market says that Nokia leads the pack with 36.4 percent of the [global phone] market, based on selling nearly 441 million phones in 2009. This is followed by Samsung, LG, Motorola and Sony Ericsson (whose percentage was 4.5). Google’s Android, Apple, and Rim were included in the “others” category, whose members must have had percentages lower than Sony Ericsson, [...].
170 million smart phones were sold in 2009. Categorized by operating system, [Nokia's] Symbian was the leader (46.9 percent market share [81 million units]) followed by Research in Motion [34 million units], iPhone OS (14.4 percent [25 million units]) and Windows Mobile [15 million units] (which led Android Phone sales by almost 9 million units).

Google’s primary interest is not in selling Smartphones, or [...] Android [...]. Google has developed both initiatives as methods of forward integrating into a “distribution channel” that will help them sell geospatially-targeted advertising[...].

I hope you find the article and above quotes as interesting as I did.

In case you wonder what Nokia and NAVTEQ have to offer in terms of geospatially-targeted advertising, please visit NAVTEQ Media Solutions to find out more.

Social Location: Is Google Latitude the GPS Revolution’s Killer App?

There is much talk recently about the GPS Revolution. Just look at the cover of the latest issue of the WIRED magazine. Technology power houses like Google, Microsoft, Nokia, T-Mobile and large social networks like Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn are offering location aware features or sharing options. And of course there are services like Brightkite, Yahoo! Fire Eagle or Plazes that are specialized on location sharing. Let’s break down some of the most basic usage scenarios and best practice examples. And let’s take a look at what Google Latitude offers and how it might fit into the bigger picture.

Since mobile phones found their way into the pockets and hand bags of everyday people the often heard questions when taking a call is: “Where are you?” followed by “What do you do?”. These are the things that most social network services revolve around. Up to the minute status messages have created a new neural network among friends, business partners and otherwise connected crowds. Mark Zuckerberg talks about “creating efficiency within society” and I agree.
And while it is good to see that “Melina has chocolate for breakfast”, “Martin is freezing in Chicago”, or “Jeff is returning from a conference in Berlin”, theses posts are of limited relevance when either enough time has passed between when they are posted and when they are read or simply thousands of miles are between poster and reader. Add in proximity filtering and alerting options and posting like the ones above can become a whole lot more relevant and actionable. Continue reading

WIRED Magazine about the GPS Revolution

I recommend reading the article in the February issue of WIRED Magazine about 10 mobile applications that make use of GPS to offer smart and/or entertaining services. (The article is available online as well. )
This will give you a glimpse of what is on the horizon with GPS-enabled mobile applications as devices gaining more and more adoption by consumers.

The list of 10 is fairly US/Western world centric so I would not be surprised to learn more about applications that support some fairly exotic use cases. If you have interesting examples from the Middle East, Africa or Asia, please post them to the comments!